TORONTO - With another school year in the books, Lyne Proulx is working to help ensure her son's summer down time will be more active than idle.
Proulx, who lives in the Ottawa suburb of Cumberland, said her 14-year-old Mathieu will be helping at his grandfather's farm with odd jobs as well as exploring potential volunteer activities. She's also purchased a program on CD for the teen's computer to help him fine-tune his typing skills.
Mathieu will likely attend day camp as he did last summer and where he enjoyed a range of fun-filled activities. But Proulx said it won't be dominating his vacation time.
"He's 14. He's not going to want to go all summer," said Proulx, founder and editor of the Ottawa Mommy Club, a moms and kids online magazine. "We do a mix of stuff.
"We're going away to Syracuse for four days to shop. ... We go to Montreal, he loves to go see the Impact (soccer team.) We do little getaways. Every week at least there's something planned. We're trying, anyway."
Proulx has had support from fellow parents, noting that when the kids were in the nine-to-11 age range, adults who were free on particular weeks would take turns rounding up the youngsters for an activity. It's an effort which still continues, albeit on a more casual basis.
When Proulx's 18-year-old daughter, Christelle, was younger, she spent time during summer going the arts and crafts route with scrapbooking.
For parents of kids who may be too young for a job or are seeking an activity that's an addition or alternative to camp this summer, here are three ways to keep them engaged.
1. Take on a project. Summer can be prime time to have kids tackle a new creative challenge —and one that's a team effort.
Bunch Family founder Rebecca Brown, whose website is devoted to arts, news and culture for parents, said she's heard of families who team three or four kids to take on a collective project, which could involve working on coding or creating an art installation.
"It provides some structure for kids to spend their summer pursuing things that they're passionate about as a group," said Brown, a mother of two. "If you have the kind of kid that would be into that, it's really great to let kids be independent."
Parents who may be lacking in technical skills or expertise needn't worry: there are plenty of kid-targeted offerings to help guide youngsters keen to try their hand at computer programming.
Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. Provided free, it's designed for kids aged eight to 16, allowing them to program interactive stories, games and animations they can then share online. Meanwhile, the Hopscotch app offers kids an introduction to programming, permitting them to create games and animations.
2. Get hooked on books. Got a bookworm in the family? Brown said parents can help create some structure around their child's love of reading by crafting a summer challenge, such as aiming to finish reading a designated number of books during their vacation.
Regardless of whether or not kids are avid readers, there are ways to transform this typically solitary activity into an engaging group effort.
The B.C.-based Teen Reading Club (TeenRC) lets youngsters convene online to share views on a vast range of books from classic to contemporary fare, post reviews and comments and share creative projects inspired by their favourite reads.
3. Lend your time. GetInvolved.ca aims to help simplify the process for youngsters on the hunt for volunteer opportunities by allowing applicants to narrow potential postings based on areas of interest and skill set.
GetInvolved.ca community manager Charlotte Kiddell said summer is prime recruitment time for events-based opportunities, and individuals can also pursue virtual volunteering opportunities.
"I think that's really helpful for younger volunteers and for students who don't have vehicles and can't get around, or are looking for ways to work or volunteering around school schedules or around summer jobs."
The Nature Conservancy of Canada encourages individuals to share how Canada's natural places inspire them by using creative outlets such as writing or artwork. People of all ages can sign up to be roving reporters, submitting newspaper-style articles, non-fiction stories, photo essays and blog posts highlighting the work of conservation volunteers.
"Not everyone can make it out into the field, but we think that encouraging people to have a positive experience related to nature is really a great thing," said Lisa McLaughlin, manager of conservation compliance with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. "This is just one more way for people to be engaged."
Kiddell said a key fact that they stress — particularly among young volunteers — is that lending their time offers a great opportunity to explore different job areas in a "no consequences way."
"I think it's a great way to figure out if something is what you're actually passionate about, but also to make connections in those fields."
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